Before you can finish saying, "I'm in property per risk treaty," their eyes have glazed over and they spot someone over your shoulder to whom they absolutely have to speak, right now. And away they go. If you'd eaten nothing but garlic bulbs for a year, they might have stuck around longer.
As you will probably have heard, there is no more important industry in the world than insurance. Nothing functions without it. Nothing. As we discovered after Sept. 11, while the insurance and reinsurance sectors reeled in shock, the commerce that is the lifeblood of society proves impossible without a functioning insurance sector. Banks won't lend on uninsured projects or homes. Businesses cannot attract the public into their premises without insurance. People can't drive cars without insurance.
OK, so insurance is an important subject, but so is quantum mechanics, and that's boring and impenetrable. Well, yes, insurance is a dry pursuit if you look at it from the perspective of men and women in business suits shuffling pieces of paper around or sitting in stuffy meeting rooms boring each other to death. But while such may be the mechanics of the business, to focus on the engine room is to miss the point.
Start with the notion that insurance is critical to the functioning of society. We'd be living in a Mad, Mad, Mad Max world without it. Now consider that the insurance markets are driven by forces both within and outside the control of management. Into the first category fall underwriting, portfolio management and "not making major bone-headed moves."
Outside anyone's control lie far more powerful forces: the economy, Mother Nature, customers, and, lately, politicians on the make. Boil it all down and being in insurance means playing a part in the way the world's risk management industry manages the planet's risk. Now we're talking.
Then there are the personalities. The men and women to whom we entrust a trillion dollars and our financial security are as diverse (and often crazy) a bunch as you could ever want to meet. CEOs of major insurers include Deadheads, the children and grandchildren of insurance wizards, former surfers, reformed playboys, and unreformed playboys. All are obsessed with what they do. After all, they deal in billions of dollars every day. And if billions of dollars aren't sexy, then what is?
Mystery always adds charm, and what industry is more opaque than insurance? Insurance means executing impossibly complex financial transactions that hardly anyone can understand, all worth trillions of dollars. Add to the mix ratings agencies, the insurance media, advertising agencies, claims adjusters, manufacturers of safety goggles, conference organizers and all the other associated industries, and never again need you mumble your occupation when asked to introduce yourself.
The next time someone asks what you do, stick out your chest and say with pride, "I work in the most important and sexiest industry in the world." Then, in case they think you mean hairdressing, add, with an enigmatic grin, "Insurance."
If that doesn't work, do what I do and say, "I'm a brain surgeon."
is a regular columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
January 1, 2005
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